Why Women Need to Ask

Last month I got a call on my radio show from 

 who was unhappy with the pay at her job and when she approached her boss was only given a 50 cent raise which didn’t even show up on her pay check. The call got me thinking about “the ask” and how hard it is for so many women.

Typically women don’t ask for what they want as frequently as men do. In the ground-breaking book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever found that the results of this lack of negotiation skills snow balls over time. In Babcock’s study examining the starting salaries of men and women graduates of Carnegie Mellon University she found that, on average, men’s first salaries were $4,000 higher. Upon further examination, she found that 57 percent of the men had asked for more money after receiving the initial offer whereas only 7 percent of the women had. Study after study revealed the same type of results. When researchers looked at this disparity and played out the salaries of these men and women over the course of a professional life time they found that, just by asking, the men earned $568,834 more than the women. Because the salary of your second job is usually based on your first, as are your raises, starting off at a lower salary ultimately leads to a serious disparity between the sexes. Professors Robin L. Pinkley and Gregory B. Northcraft, authors of Get Paid What You’re Worth, estimate that a woman who routinely negotiates her salary will earn over a million dollars more than her female counterpart who does not ask for more money, over the course of her entire career.

Legendary psychologist Carol Gilligan was the first to talk about what she called the “tyranny of niceness,”  the way American culture encourages females to be people pleasers at their own expense. This cultural pressure to put other’s needs first, to ignore one’s own feelings and to avoid asking for what one wants because it might make other people uncomfortable has traditionally been felt by and harmed women the most. Because women tend to be relationship oriented they are more likely to subvert their own desires to please others or to avoid a potential conflict. Whether it is asking for a raise, a better job opportunity, help at home, or for a boyfriend to wear a condom it is a crucial life skill that must be mastered.